Feb 222017

This afternoon I am delighted to be at the Inaugeral Lecture of Prof. Jonathan Silvertown from the School of Biological Sciences here at the University of Edinburgh.

Vice Chancellor Tim O’Shea is introducing Jonathan, who is Professor of Evolutionary Ecology and Chair in Technology Enhanced Science Education, and who came to Edinburgh from the Open University.

Now to Jonathan:

Imagine an entire city turned into an interactive learning environment. Where you can learn about the birds in the trees, the rock beneath your feet. And not just learn about them, but contribute back to citizen science, to research taking place in and about the city. I refer to A City of Learning… As it happens Robert Louis Stevenson used to do something similar, carrying two books in their pocket: one for reading, one for writing. That’s the idea here. Why do this in Edinburgh? We have the most fantastic history, culture and place.

Edinburgh has an increadible history of enlightenment, and The Enlightenment. Indeed it was said that you could, at one point, stand on the High Street and shake the hands of 50 men of genius. On the High Street now you can shake Hume (his statue) by the toe and I shall risk quoting him: “There is nothing to be learned from a professor which is not to be met within books”. Others you might have met then include Joseph Black, and also James Hutton, known as the “father of modern geology” and he walked up along the crags and a section now known as “Huttons section” (an unconformity to geologists) where he noted sandstone, and above it volcanic rock. He interpreted this as showing that rocks accumulate by ongoing processes that can be observed now. That’s science. You can work out what happened in the past by understanding what is happening now. And from that he concluded that the earth was more than 6000 years old, as Bishop Usher had calculated. In his book The Theory of the Earth he coined this phrase “No vestige of a beginning, no prospect of an end”. And that supported the emerging idea of evolutionary biology which requires a long history to work. That all happened in Edinburgh.

Edinburgh also has a wealth of culture. It is (in the New Town) a UNESCO World Heritage site. Edinburgh has the Fringe Festival, the International Festival, the Book Festival, the Jazz Festival… And then there is the rich literary heritage of Edinburgh – as J.K. Rowling says “Its impossible to live in Edinburgh without sensing it’s literary heritage”. Indeed if you walk in the Meadows you will see a wall painting celebrating The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. And you can explore this heritage yourself through the LitLong Website and App. He took thousands of books with textmining and a gazeteer of Edinburgh Places, extracting 40,000 snippets of text associated with pinpoints on the map. And you can do this on an app on your phone. Edinburgh is an extraordinary place for all sorts of reasons…

And a place has to be mapped. When you think of maps these days, you tend to think of Google. But I have something better… Open Street Map is to a map what Wikipedia is to the Encyclopedia Britannica. So, when my wife and I moved into a house in Edinburgh which wasn’t on Ordnance Survey, wasn’t on Google Maps, but was almost immediately on OpenStreetMap. It’s Open because there are no restrictions on use so we can use it in our work. Not all cities are so blessed… Geographic misconceptions are legion, if you look at one of th emaps in the British Library you will see the Cable and Wireless Great Circle Map – a map that is both out of date and prescient. It is old and outdated but does display the cable and wireless links across the world… The UK isn’t the centre of the globe as this map shows, wherever you are standing is the centre of the globe now. And Edinburgh is international. At least year’s Edinburgh festival the Deep Time event projected the words “Welcome, World” just after the EU Referendum. Edinburgh is a global city, University of Edinburgh is a global university.

Before we go any further I want to clarify what I mean by learning when I talk about making a city of learning… Kolb (1984) is “How we transform experience into knowledge”, it is learning by discovery. And, wearing my evolutionary hat, it’s a major process of human adaptation. Kolb’s learning cycle takes us from Experience, to Reflect (observe), Conceptualise (Ideas), Experiment (Test), and back to Experience. It is of course also the process of scientific discovery.

So, lets apply that cycle of learning to iSpot, to show how that experiential learning and discovery and what extraordinary things that can do. iSpot is designed to crowdsource the identification of organisms (see Silvertown, Harvey, Greenwood, Dodd, Rosewell, Rebelo, Ansine, McConway 2015). If I see “a white bird” it’s not that exciting, but if I know its a Kittywake then that’s interesting – has it been seen before? Are they nesting elsewhere? You can learn more from that. So you observe an orgnism, you reflect, you start to get comment from others.

So, we have over 60,000 registered users of iSpot, 685k observations, 1.3 million photos, and we have identified over 30,000 species. There are many many stories contained within that. But I will share one of these. So this observation came in from South Africa. It was a picture of some seeds with a note “some children in Zululand just ate some of these seeds and are really ill”. 35 seconds later someone thousands of miles away in Capetown, others agreed on the id. And the next day the doctor who posted the image replied to say that the children were ok, but that it happens a lot and knowing what plant they were from helps them to do something. It wasn’t what we set this up to do but that’s a great thing to happen…

So, I take forward to this city of learning, the lessons of a borderless community; the virtuous circle of learning which empowers and engages people to find out more; and encourage repurposing – use the space as they want and need (we have added extra functions to support that over time in iSpot).

Learning and discovery lends itself to research… So I will show you two projects demonstrating this which gives us lessons to take forward into Edinburgh City of Learning. Evolution Megalab.org was created at the Open University to mark Darwins double centenary in 2009, but we also wanted to show that evolution is happening right now in your own garden… So the snails in your garden have colours and banding patterns, and they have known genetic patterns… And we know about evolution in the field. We know what conditions favour which snails. So, we asked the public to help us test the hypothesis about the snails. So we had about 10,000 populations of snails captured, half of which was there already, half of which was contributed by citizens over a single year. We had seen, over the last 50 years, an increase in yellow shelled snails which do not warm up too quickly. We would expect brown snails further north, yellow snails further south. So was that correct? Yes and No. There was an increase in sanddunes, but not elsewhere. But we also saw a change in patterns of banding patterns, and we didn’t know why… So we went back to pre Megalab data and that issue was provable before, but hadn’t previously been looked for.

Lessons from Megalab included that all can contribute, that it must be about real science and real questions, and that data quality matters. If you are ingenious about how you design your project, then all people can engage and contribute.

Third project, briefly, this is Treezilla, the monster map of trees – which we started in 2014 just before I came here – and the idea is that we have a map of the identity, size and location of trees and, with that, we can start to look at ecosystem impact of these trees, they capture carbon, they can ameliorate floods… And luckily my colleague Mike Dodd spotted some software that could be used to make this happen. So one of the lessons here is that you should build on existing systems, building projects on top of projects, rather than having to happen at the same time.

So, this is the Edinburgh Living Lab, and this is a collaboration between schools and the kinds of projects they do include bike counters and traffic – visualised and analysed – which gives the Council information on traffic in a really immediate way that can allow them to take action. This set of projects around the Living Lab really highlighted the importance of students being let loose on data, on ideas around the city. The lessons here is that we should be addressing real world problems, public engagement is an important part of this, and we are no longer interdisiplinary, we are “post disciplinary” – as is much of the wider world of work and these skills will go with these students from the Living Lab for instance.

And so to Edinburgh Cityscope, a project with synergy across learning, research and engagement. Edinburgh Cityscope is NOT an app, it is an infrastructure. It is the stuff out of which other apps and projects will be built.

So, the first thing we had to do was made Cityscope futureproof. When we built iSpot the iPhone hadn’t been heard of, now maybe 40% of you here have one. And we’ve probably already had peak iPhone. We don’t know what will be used in 5 years time. But there are aspects they will always need… They will need Data. What kinds of data? For synergy and place we need maps. And maps can have layers – you can relate the nitrogen dioxide to traffic, you can compare the trees…. So Edinburgh Cityscope is mapable. And you need a way to bring these things together, you need a workbench. Right now that includes Jupyter, but we are not locked in, so we can change in future if we want to. And we have our data and our code open on Github. And then finally you need to have a presentation layer – a place to disseminate what we do to our students and colleagues, and what they have done.

So, in the last six months we’ve made progress in data – using Scottish Government open data portal we have Lung Cancer registrations that can be mapped and changes seen. We can compare and investigate and our students can do that. We have the SIMD (Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation) map… I won’t show you a comparison as it has hardly changed in decades – one area has been in poverty since around 1900. My colleague Leslia McAra is working in public engagement, with colleagues here, to engage in ways that make this better, that makes changes.

The workbench has been built. It isn’t pretty yet… You can press a button to create a Notebook. You can send your data to a phone app – pulling data from Cityscope and show it in an app. You can start a new tour blog – which anybody can do. And you create a survey for used for new information…

So let me introduce one of these apps. Curious Edinburgh is an app that allows you to learn about the history of science in Edinburgh, to explore the city. The genius idea – and I can say genius because I didn’t build it, Niki and the folks at EDINA did – is that you can create this tour from a blog. You fill in forms essentially. And there is an app which you can download for iOS, and a test version for Android – full one coming for the Edinburgh International Science Festival in April. Because this is an Edinburgh Cityscope project I’ve been able to use the same technology to create a tour of the botanical gardens for use in my teaching. We used to give out paper, now we have this app we can use in teaching, in teaching in new ways… And I think this will be very popular.

And the other app we have is Fieldtrip, a survey tool borrowed from EDINA’s FieldTrip Open. And that allows anyone to set up a data collection form – for research, for social data, for whatever. It is already open, but we are integrating this all into Edinburgh Cityscope.

So, this seems a good moment to talk about the funding for this work. We have had sizable funding from Information Services. The AHRC has funded some of the Curious Edinburgh work, and ESRC have funded work which a small part of which Edinburgh Cityscope will be using in building the community.

So, what next? We are piloting Cityscope with students – in the Festival of Creative Learning this week, in Informatics. And then we want to reach out to form a community of practice, including schools, community groups and citizens. And we want to connect with cultural institutions and industry – already working with the National Museum of Scotland. And we want to interface with the Internet of Things – anything with a chip in it really. You can interact with your heating systems from anywhere in the world – that’s the internet of things, things connected to the web. And I’m keen on creating an Internet of Living Things. The Atlas of Living Scotland displays all the biological data of Scotland on the map. But data gets out of date. It would be better to updated in real time. So my friend Kate Jones from UCL is working with Intel creating real time data from bats – allowing real time data to be captured through connected sensors. And also in that space Graham Stone (Edinburgh) is working on a project called Edinburgh Living Landscape which is about connecting up green spaces, improve biodiversity…

So, I think what we should be going for is for recognition of Edinburgh as the First UNESCO City of Learning. Edinburgh was the first UNESCO City of Literature and the people who did that are around, we can make our case for our status as City of Learning in much the same way.

So that’s pretty much the end. Nothing like this happens without lots and lots of help. So a big thanks here to Edinburgh Cityscope’s steering group and the many people in Information Services who have been actually building it.

And the final words are written for me: Four Quartets, T.S. Eliot:

“We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring 

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time”

 February 22, 2017  Posted by at 6:17 pm LiveBlogs Tagged with: , ,  No Responses »
May 202015
ScreenShot of job ad

I am very excited to announce that the advert for our new EDINA Social Media Officer job (full time, 2 year fixed term) has just gone live on the University of Edinburgh jobs site! Read the full ad, and apply, here.

As some of you will be aware I moved into a new role at EDINA, as Jisc MediaHub Service Manager and Digital Education Manager, back in February (a role that I share with my lovely new colleague Lorna Campbell). I am still passionate about social media and communication of course, but I have officially handed on the Social Media Officer baton ready for someone new…

So, what can I say to encourage you to apply?

Well firstly, EDINA is a lovely place to work – we are a friendly bunch and the organisation is big enough to include a diverse range of people with super skills and expertise, but it’s still small enough to get to know everyone, find out what we’re all working on, etc. As an organisation we work on some fantastic online services and really innovative projects, which means that there are loads of great opportunities to communicate and engage using both mainstream and emerging social media channels.

As EDINA is based at the University of Edinburgh we also benefit from the wisdom and opportunities across Information Services, and the wider organisation. Although you’ll see more on pay, terms, and holiday entitlement in the job ad I should add that EDINA also benefits from some excellent in-house baking as part of an ongoing charity bake sale!

The Social Media Officer role was created back in 2009 and I have to say that I hugely enjoyed my time in the role so heartily recommend it! My colleagues have always been enthusiastic about exploring new technologies and ways to communicate, and are a skilled and experienced bunch so, whilst the job has evolved reflecting the maturity of social media tools, and their use as core communications channels, it remains an exciting post with lots of interesting opportunities. And the role sits in our User Support team, a very welcoming crew genuinely committed to providing the best experience for our users, including thousands of students, staff and researchers across (and sometimes beyond) the UK HE and FE sectors.

As you’ll see from the ad, our new Social Media Officer will have a particular focus on communicating our EU FP7-funded COBWEB: Citizen Observatory Web project, which means engaging with citizen science and local communities across several UNESCO Biosphere pilot locations in Wales, Greece and Germany. That also means working with a wider range of communications channels and approaches, and working with colleagues in an excellent group of partner organisations across Europe – and that means there’s likely to be a wee bit of travel too!

So, please do take a look at the job ad, see if it might be right for you (or someone you know), and get applying!

Edit: Please note that applications close at 5pm on Tuesday 9th June 2015. Links below have also been updated to resolve an issue. If you have any trouble clicking through to the further details and application site, go to: https://www.vacancies.ed.ac.uk/ and search for the Vacancy Reference 033250.

All those important links… 

Feb 032011

As many of you may already know I’ve been working with my colleagues to create a set of guidelines on blogging and social media for some time. I am therefore very excited to let you know that we have just published version 1.0 of the EDINA Social Media Guidelines on the EDINA website under a CC (Attribution-ShareAlike) license.

The guidelines are intended to encourage and support use of social media but also to provide some common sense advice about getting presences set up, dealing with difficult comments, etc.  We have been using various draft versions of the guidelines internally for some time in order to gather feedback on how well they work, what else should be covered, etc. and this has been an invaluable process. I think the guidelines that have emerged are much stronger for the community input we’ve had and this first full version feel really compact, really relevant and cover a lot of ground, or, as my colleague Paul puts it: the guidelines are “a short but meaty” document.

Obviously social media moves fast and to stay relevant these guidelines will continue to develop, iterating regularly to take account of new tools and technologies and to take account of the feedback we receive back. With that in mind I would love to hear your comments and feedback on this first version.

Publishing the guidelines means we are not only being transparent about our own processes of adopting and using social media but it also means we can learn from others’ experiences and feedback. We are also sharing what we have learned over a roughly two year process. When I began drafting the guidelines I reviewed other social media guidelines (for which Jeremiah Oywang’s blog is always a useful source) including those from IBM, the UK Government Twitter guidance (links to Guardian coverage as the original copy is no longer available), various local councils policies, the BBC guidelines and, curiously but very usefully, the US Air Force flow chart for dealing with comments (which has inspired our own comment moderation guide).

We’ve also used the guidelines as an opportunity to flag up some of our current social media activity. We already have a social media page on the EDINA website but we’ve also posted a news item today to highlight some of the recent activity on those blogs, twitter accounts, Facebook pages, etc. that we list. My colleagues at EDINA share their substantial expertise and experiences through project, service and team social media presences and I highly recommend taking a wee look around the blogs in particular.

I hope you’ll find the guidelines interesting and if you think they might be useful for your own organisation please do have a look, grab a copy and adapt as you’d like – though I’d love to hear how you’re using them – do leave me a comment or drop me an email!

Oct 192010

This is my very first post on my EDINA blog and as such I am going to ask you to be gentle on me as this is a bit of an experiment. Obviously this is not my first blog post ever but this is my first experience of having a personal professional blog and I thought I would therefore start by explaining a bit about what I do and why I will be blogging.

screen shot of the EDINA Social Media Page

The Social Media page on the EDINA website.

Firstly, a little in the way of introductions, my name is Nicola Osborne and I work as Social Media Officer for EDINA. If you’ve found this blog the odds are that you already know a bit about EDINA but broadly we provide online resources for Higher and Further Education in the form of over thirty projects and services (information on all of which can be found on the EDINA website).  In my role I provide support, advice and input on social media and new technology to all of these projects which gives me a fantastically busy and varied workload.

With all of those different things going on this blog is going to be a bit of a mixed bag. I’m hoping to share experiences and interesting bits of social media and technology news alongside links to interesting social media work both EDINA and other organisations are up to.

A Week in the Life…

To give a sense of what that might include here’s some of what my average week (in this case last week) involves: took part in trials of Wimba; meeting for the Mediahub project; attended TechMeetUp (where I got to meet the new Edinburgh Festivals Innovation Lab Geek-in-Residence Ben Werdmuller, made some new useful contacts in social media, got to hear about the Hut4 wireframing site for iPhone development, and secured a new source of fresh damsons); followed up contacts and ideas from the Beltane Annual Gathering; planning for the launch of AddressingHistory; and organising @statacc tweets…


We’ve been trialling a new Twitter project with one of our long standing services. The Statistical Accounts of Scotland. The Accounts, which cover the period 1791-1845, are an amazing source of Scottish history including all sorts of observations, folklore, and social history nuggets.

screen shot of an @statacc tweet

A recent @statacc Tweet.

We recently set up both a Facebook and Twitter presence for the accounts and so last week I spent some time creating  notes on how to Tweet for the project and showing colleagues the process of finding, trimming, tagging and scheduling tweets (we are currently using FutureTweets to do this) to be posted as snippits from @statacc. The main problem with getting the snippits together is, happily, that we all get very distracted reading through the accounts!

We are also trying to encourage Statistical Accounts of Scotland users to share their own favourite snippits on the #statacc hashtag and have had some modest success with this so far. Do keep an eye on the @statacc account as we are retweeting the best of these.

 October 19, 2010  Posted by at 5:28 pm Week In the Life Tagged with: , , , , ,  No Responses »